Picture this. Your significant other (SO) sits down with you, holds your hands, and tells you something you’ve always suspected but now know for certain: she’s an arachnophobe. Or a stygiophobe, a trichophobe, or a hemophobe. Or even an ailurophobe, although now that you know this, it may be better to cut her loose right away (just kidding... sort of).
You now have a golden opportunity before you. You can either be a kind and loving partner who recognizes and meets her mental health needs, or you can be a schmuck. In the spirit of love and kindness, I have decided to provide you with a list of considerations in forming your response and, consequently, cementing your SO’s eternal appreciation and adoration.
So, for the sake of ease, let’s assume your partner is an arachnophobe. Let’s also assume she has a difficult time saying the s-word associated with arachnids, so instead we’ll call them woo-woos. Ahem. Anyway, below are some tips for dealing with your SO’s newly-confided phobia.
1. If the woman wants to call bugs woo-woos, let her. I mean, she has a psychiatric diagnosis; work with her.
2. Now is not the time to remind her of that time you had a run in with the Infamous Giant Woo-Woo of Peru Who Eats Small Children and Commands an Army of Lesser, But Still Enormous and Venomous, Woo-Woos. Seriously. Don’t do it. Your partner will do one of the following: faint, hit you, leave you, or, worst of all, smile glassily while thinking dire thoughts about the future of your relationship. It’s sweet that you want to relate to your SO on a level you’re sure she can appreciate, but if she has a phobia, even hearing reminders that these things exist feels about as good as swallowing pine cones.
3. Don’t nod and pat her hand and assure her yes, you have a deep-seated fear of woo-woos, too. This doesn’t work for a few reasons: a. If your partner has a phobia, it means she has a psychiatric condition, an irrational terror, not a slight disinclination or even a hatred or disgust. It means she experiences irrational terror, can even go bug-poo crazy at the mere thought of them. I can pretty much guarantee you can’t relate and probably shouldn’t try; b. You’re a deeply fascinating person, which is why she adores you. However, this moment is so not about you; and c. She knows – dear god, yes, she knows – your revelation is the prelude to you recounting number two above.
4. (Kind of an extension of number three) Keep the phobia in perspective. On one hand, it’s a diagnosis and can be pretty disturbing to your SO; a kind partner (i.e., you) will offer to help without minimizing the seriousness and scope of the phobia. An awesome partner will unfailingly offer to deal with any woo-woos that might jump, snarling, into the path (metaphorical or literal) of the otherwise-fearless SO. OTOH, chances are your SO is otherwise a kick-ass, strong woman whose beauty can bring oppressive nations crashing to their knees. Her revelation should endear her to you as an even more beautiful, strong, and vulnerable person. As Barbara Bloom says, “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” Your partner is gold, baby!
5. Please don’t regale her with scientific information about the harmlessness, safety ratings, or cuddliness of woo-woos. The definition of phobia is “irrational”; she’s perfectly aware her terror has very little basis in rationality. As much as she wishes it could, your logic will not undo a lifetime of phobia.
In short, be sweet, give her the space to make this her moment, and respect her strength while also making sure the literal or metaphorical area is as free as possible from random woo-woos bent on ambushing her and sucking the jelly from her eyes.
No need for thanks. Ensuring we phobics hear less about your run-ins with the source of our phobia is payment enough.